Fine Gael tearing itself apart in civil war over Reilly
Labour TDs warn they won't be able to support Health Minister
AS CIVIL war threatens to engulf Fine Gael over the looming Cabinet reshuffle, Leo Varadkar – the minister seen as the most likely successor to Health Minister James Reilly – has made a strong defence of his embattled colleague.
Months of controversy and a spate of recent attacks by Fine Gael TDs on Dr Reilly have weakened his position to such an extent that senior Cabinet colleagues claim: "The only thing keeping James in cabinet is his personal relationship with Enda Kenny."
It was reported this weekend that Dr Reilly has been openly discussing the prospect of losing his job with advisers.
But in a strong defence of Dr Reilly, Transport Minister Varadkar told the Sunday Independent: "James has been asked to do the impossible, to reform and expand health services while taking billions out of the system."
After a week where even the Taoiseach seemed to equivocate on the issue of confidence in Dr Reilly, Mr Varadkar said: "Any decisions made on medical cards were made by Cabinet and passed by the Oireachtas. Ministers are collectively responsible for these decisions, not just one man."
But while Mr Varadkar's intervention may serve to calm tensions within Fine Gael, a separate bushfire has broken out in Labour.
A number of Labour TDs have privately warned they would face "extreme difficulties in voting confidence in James Reilly'' if the Opposition tabled a motion of no confidence in the Health Minister.
One senior party TD said: "How could Labour, having expressed an absence of confidence in our own leader Eamon Gilmore, then vote confidence in James Reilly?
"It simply would not be credible. Seven TDs went on the record to say they had no confidence in Eamon Gilmore. How can they credibly trot through the lobbies to back Reilly?"
Another Labour TD warned: "It would be very difficult to reconcile the position, such a motion would pose TDs who are unhappy with stark alternatives."
A senior Fine Gael source sarcastically responded: "That is so terribly helpful, I hope Labour know the consequences of what they're doing."
Even within his own party, a split is accelerating. Members of its old guard also lashed back at the increasingly open criticism of Mr Reilly by younger colleagues.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, veteran Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said: "I am a modest man, the only person within my party I would publicly ever call on to be sacked is myself. The young stallions are pawing the ground but often young stallions don't have any effect."
Cork deputy Jerry Buttimer added: "People need to realise that loyalty is a virtue. Success in politics is about good policy, not making scapegoats of individuals.''
Support for Reilly was not confined to the old guard.
Donegal North East deputy Joe Mc Hugh said: "I don't believe in this theory of kicking the man when he is down."
He added that he had first-hand experience of the effectiveness of the minister.
"When Letterkenny Hospital was flooded he was there with the CEO and secretary general within 48 hours sorting it out on the spot," he said.
Another first-term TD, who did not want to be named, was scathing about the furore surrounding Dr Reilly. He told the Sunday Independent: "We have turned into a f**king disgrace. It's time we settled down, we are killing ourselves.
"It is clear that his days are numbered, but we should conduct ourselves with dignity. It is time the party locked itself in a room until we decide how to rebuild ourselves."
Intriguingly, other senior TDs have begun to link the Taoiseach's internal authority to the fate of Mr Reilly.
One senior Fine Gael TD said: "I have never before seen TDs openly demanding that someone go when that person is chairing a meeting at the top table. When individuals start talking about the deputy leader, then the leader is next. Kenny is not in control of this situation."